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Melancholy Dane (Cook): When Comics Get Serious

December 4, 2011

If dying is easy and comedy is hard, why do so many comics feel the need to prove themselves as dramatic actors? The results have been mixed: For every Oscar-nominated triumph like Bill Murray in Lost in Translation, there’s a critically drubbed debacle like… Bill Murray in The Razor’s Edge. The latest example: Dane Cook, the poster child for frat-boy stand-up, whose indie drama Answers to Nothing debuted quietly in theaters and VOD this weekend.

Cook stars as an L.A. therapist who’s cheating on his wife (Lost‘s Elizabeth Mitchell), even as he’s trying to conceive a child with her via in vitro fertilization. He’s also trying to convince his in-denial mother (Barbara Hershey) that his absentee dad is never coming home. It’s a deadly serious movie—emphasis on deadly—yet Cook barely seems able to keep a straight face through it.

With overlapping storylines including the search for a missing girl and a marathoner taking care of her paralyzed brother, Answers to Nothing is clearly derivative of Crash, which itself was derivative of Robert Altman’s Short Cuts. But those films boasted stellar casts; this Crash-ing bore is stuck with B- and D-list TV actors (Dexter casualty Julie Benz, ER vet Erik Palladino), justifiably unknown nobodies (Kali Hawk? Aja Volkman?) and—most tragically—Cook.

While Cook just seems lost, Albert Brooks found a thrilling new career path with his acclaimed turn as L.A. crime boss Bernie Ross in this year’s Drive. The comedic auteur won best supporting actor from the New York Film Critics and is expected to cruise to an Oscar nomination, his first since 1987’s Broadcast News. Brooks shed his nebbishy persona and transformed himself into a physically intimidating thug; when he kills a man by plunging a fork into his eye, it’s no laughing matter.

Then there’s the sad case of Eddie Murphy, who lit up the screen with his Oscar-nominated tour de force as a drug-fueled soul singer in Dreamgirls—then returned to nightmarishly unfunny farces like Norbit, Meet Dave and Tower Heist. After Bret Ratner’s flameout, the only way Murphy will get to the Oscars this year is the same way Dane Cook can: buy a ticket.

Should comics stick to telling jokes? Post a comment—and don’t forget to tip your waitresses!

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